The Way We Are Building Event-Driven Applications is Misguided. This is Why We Created Infinitic.

Gilles Barbier
7 min readMar 26, 2024

I believe that the way the industry is often building asynchronous event-driven applications is misguided and can be greatly improved.

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Online businesses (online food ordering and delivery, ride-hailing, financial applications, e-commerces, etc.) often have business processes implemented with services (Orders, Notifications, Tracking, Payments, Users, etc.) communicating through an event broker (e.g. Kafka, NATS, Solace, RabbitMQ or Pulsar):

Business process running through services exchanging events

Using events has many advantages:

  • Unlike API-driven services, event-driven services can function independently of each other, passing messages that are stored durably in the event brokers. This makes business processes very reliable by design: even if a service is down, it will be able to resume when it’s back up again.
  • You do not need to oversize your infrastructure: adding more process instances will increase latency in their execution but will not break your services (as long as your event broker can handle new messages).
  • It’s flexible enough that you can easily add an action by “hooking” a service to an event. To do this, you don’t need to update the service that issued the event. From an organizational point of view, it’s an appreciable flexibility.

However, this event-driven pattern does not simplify your life.

Asynchronous communication is much more complex than it appears. You must not only operate an event broker, but also write a lot of boilerplate code, as you have to define your queues, define your messages (types and schemas), learn the event broker APIs and write specific consumers and producers, implement error handling, and be extra careful not to break anything during updates.

The Choreography Pattern

Vendors like Confluent try to convince you that a central event broker cleans up the mess created by direct inter-service HTTP communications. But in practice, each event-driven service reacts to other service events and produces its own events (this is why it’s called the choreography pattern). So instead of API-driven services calling other ones, we have event-driven services pulling messages from other ones:

Choreography pattern

Despite being ubiquitous, this pattern has important issues:

  • There is no easy way to understand how a specific business process is actually implemented. The whole process is defined by how each service reacts to others. There is no central repository, and the implementation details of business processes are scattered everywhere.
  • For the same reason as above, there’s no easy way to understand what business processes are running. Your customer-support and customer-success teams will soon be forcing you to set up some kind of tracing system to be able to do this.
  • A service must know the structure of the events it must react to. A modification to an event can break the services that use it downstream. It’s an important issue, especially if multiple teams are evolved.
  • “Fan-in” situations where a service wants to react to multiple events combined are complex to implement as they require storing states.
  • Implementing transactions (when multiple service executions must be successful together or none) is challenging as well.
  • Updating the code of a business process without breaking ongoing ones is really difficult.

The Orchestrator Pattern

As we can see above, event-driven applications based on the choreography pattern are efficient when running, but complex to implement and very complex to maintain.

For these reasons, I think an “orchestration” model is preferable. In this pattern, a service called “orchestrator” or “workflow” is responsible for managing service executions based on the business process definition.

Historically, these orchestrators were rather cumbersome, low-performance software, like BPM engines. But today an orchestrator can be lightweight and event-based to keep all the benefits described above:

Orchestrator pattern

Conceptually, this pattern it simpler:

  • Each service has a command and an event topic. The service reacts to commands (“create invoice”) by producing events (“invoice created”).
  • Each workflow service pilots business processes by producing commands to services (potentially to other workflows) and consuming the corresponding events. A workflow service has its own database to store the current state of processes, that are now visible.

Workflow services are horizontally scalable. But for consistency we should no have race condition when updating a state — either by locking the corresponding row in the database — or by ensuring that a specific process instance will always be handled by the same workflow service instance. I prefer the latter, which is more scalable and allows also to cache the state in-memory.

The benefits of this pattern are:

  • The services are better decoupled, as they no longer need to know what events the other services are producing. (The workflow services need to know about other services, but it is precisely their role to ensure the smooth flow of data between services).
  • It’s easy to understand how a process is implemented, as it’s described within the workflow service.
  • The workflow services can easily implement sophisticated workflows, including compensations if needed.
  • The workflow services can be versioned to ensure the smooth updates of business processes.

Infinitic Framework

In practice, nevertheless, this pattern is more complex to implement, and I believe this is why it’s more rarely implemented, despite its many benefits. That’s why we created Infinitic, a framework to make event-driven applications easy using the orchestrator pattern.

This is what an event-driven application using Infinitic looks like:

Where everything in green is provided by Infinitic:

  • The topics topology with their schemas are managed for you
  • A Client to start and interact with workflows.
  • The Service workers wrapping your Java services (removing the need for you to implement consumers and producers, and to manage data serialization and deserialization).
  • The Workflow workers providing an easy way to implement your business logic in full Java. (This will be the subject of another article.)

The scheduler has disappeared from the diagram because Infinitic provides its own, simplifying the architecture even further.

As you do not need to know the internals of Infinitic to run it, we can simplify the above illustration to:

By providing all the boilerplate code, Infinitic makes it easier to build an event-based application using an orchestration pattern with the following benefits:

  • Excellent scalability and resilience
  • Horizontally scalable event-driven services that are entirely decoupled
  • Horizontally scalable workflow services
  • Built-in error-management (retries, dead letter queues, error propagation, etc.)
  • Ability to code the more complex business processes (e.g. including timers or signals)
  • Centralized and git-versioned definitions for workflows.
  • Ability to update workflows without breaking running ones.
  • Built-in observability of workflows states.

Note that you do not need to switch your entire infrastructure to Infinitic to start using it. You can easily start with an isolated process:

Use of Infinitic for an isolated sub-process.

Infinitic is currently based on Apache Pulsar, which has the right features for an ideal implementation (message queues, key-shared subscriptions, delayed messages). Other platforms like Kafka or RabbitMQ could be added later as they add those features.

You do not need to know Pulsar at all to use Infinitic. You just need a running instance. If you are not familiar with it, you will find managed instances at companies such as StreamNative, Datastax, or CleverCloud.

Conclusion

While the choreography pattern for event-driven applications is widely used, the orchestrator pattern offers significant advantages by centralizing process flow management within dedicated workflow services. This approach promotes better decoupling of services, easier comprehension of business process implementations, and simpler handling of complex workflows, transactions, and process versioning. However, implementing the orchestrator pattern can be challenging due to increased complexity. Thankfully, frameworks like Infinitic greatly simplify adoption by providing the necessary boilerplate code allowing developers to focus on implementing business logic while enjoying the benefits of an orchestrator pattern with minimal overhead.

If interested, have a look at https://infinitic.io or read the docs at https://docs.infinitic.io, subscribe to the Infinitic substack https://infinitic.substack.com.

If you require consultancy services or professional support, please feel free to contact me at gilles at infinic.io.

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